Infobox Website
name = etree
favicon =

caption =
url =
commercial = No
type = Live music trading
registration = Optional
owner = etree community
host = Ibiblio
author = Mike Wren
launch date = 1998
current status = Active
revenue = N/A

etree, or electronic tree, is a music community created in the summer of 1998 for the online trading of live concerts. etree pioneered the standards for distributing lossless audio on the net and only permits its users to distribute the music of artists that allow the free taping and trading of their music.

Background was created because collectors and curators of live music recordings historically faced four related problems:

First, a problem common to all curators: source material degrades over time. In particular, the magnetic audio tape used to make many live audio recordings physically decays and, as it is repeatedly played back, loses its clarity. Preserving musical source material, therefore, meant restricting access to it. As a result, archival music may have been preserved, but it was not being heard by anyone. Similarly, individuals who possessed live concert recordings were typically unable to store them appropriately (in climate controlled, fire-safe storage, for example) and/or they lacked the ability to make copies for archiving and preservation. Essentially, the musical history of 20th Century concert performances was being lost, locked up in vaults or decaying in attics and living-room bookcases.

Second, copies of analog recordings tend to degrade when copied due to the introduction of hiss or 'noise' inherent to the use of magnetic tape. As a result, no two copies are identical, and each copy, or generation, sounds inferior to the generation preceding it.

Third, given the pre-Internet nature of exchanging live recordings (described below) and the fact that the right to copy many such recordings was or is quasi-legal, the provenance, or "lineage" of many recordings was poorly documented. Even today, historians and collectors find much confusion as to date, venue, setlist, etc., in early bootleg recordings. Curators and collectors searching for source material, or simply the best-sounding copy of a concert recording, were required to spend considerable time accumulating multiple copies of the (supposedly) same material, comparing recordings, following up with sources, etc. The presence of fraudsters, commercial bootleggers, and other criminals in this area did not help.

Finally, as a matter of historical preservation, the existence of a single copy of an historical object (whatever it may be) presents a significantly greater risk that the object will be destroyed, damaged or lost than if multiple copies of the object exist. Archivists, therefore, prefer to distribute copies of historical material as widely as possible, to reduce the risk that all copies are destroyed and the object be lost forever.

Budding and Growth

etree evolved at the intersection of the technological solutions to these problems.

First, by the late 1990s, mechanisms for capturing or transferring recordings to the digital domain were well-developed. Digital, magnetic formats and media like Pulse Code Modulation (PCM) and Digital Audio Tape (DAT), or optical media like Laser Disc (LD) and Compact Disc (CD), and other types of digital storage, permitted archivists to record concerts in a manner that reduced or eliminated the degradation of source material when played back or copied. Copies of such recordings could be made that were exact duplicates of the original recording, and such copies do not exhibit degradation in the way that analog audio tape does. Thus, today, digital recordings are typically made to DAT, optical disc, or to hard drives, flash memory, and other types of digital storage.

Second, the emergence of the ability to transform musical recordings to computer data files (such as .wav and .aiff files, which are containers for PCM data) permitted collectors to verify the identity of duplicate copies of a particular digital, or digitized analog, recording. This is typically done by generating a checksum of the data in a file, usually in the MD5 format, and comparing that checksum to a checksum for another file, or a known checksum of the original file. If the checksums match, the files are identical; if not, then the files are different. Such matching copies are referred to as "lossless" copies (to distinguish them from both degradable media like analog tape, and from file formats like .mp3, which remove audio information in order to reduce file size). Such copies are usually bundled with a text file including information about the recording such as date, venue, setlist, recording equipment used, etc., that reduces uncertainty and error in establishing recording provenance and comparing recording sources.

Third, distribution of lossless audio data became easier as the Internet developed. Historically, distributing copies of live music to collectors and archivists faced a bottleneck, in that collectors had to find each other and arrange to transfer copies of physical media (discs, tapes, etc.) in person or through the U.S. mail. One way of expediting distribution was to create a "tree" of people, the "seeder" of which would make copies of a "master" recording and deliver a low-generation copy to each "branch" of the tree, the members of which would then pass the low-generation master along to each "leaf" on the tree branch, thus speeding distribution greatly while minimizing generational loss (for analog material). Still, this was slow and liable to fail if a single person on the branch of the tree did not follow through.

The idea of transferring DAT-quality audio files via the Internet -- i.e., an "e-tree" -- was first discussed in 1996, but it was impractical at the time due to the large file sizes required to keep the quality intact. For example, a 74 minute CD holds approximately 640 MB of uncompressed PCM data, and a two-hour concert would require two CDs. Transferring a single CD worth of data over a dial-up modem takes approximately 7 days at dial-up modem speeds.

Several developments in computer technology made the fourth factor, the lossless file transfer over the Internet, possible. First, the Shorten (SHN) file format was developed by a company called SoftSound. The Shorten process non-destructively removes extraneous data within PCM .wav files, reducing their size by approximately 45-55% while allowing the resulting SHN files to be expanded to their original form without the loss of any audio data. (The newer FLAC format has largely replaced SHN and is now preferred.) These digital audio files, called "filesets," are thus bit-perfect copies, identical to their original sources, and can be played on virtually any computer, converted to the appropriate format to be burnt to CD for playback on home stereo systems, or converted to other formats for use on portable music players. Second, the explosive growth of the Internet allowed many more people to set up File Transfer Protocol (FTP) servers to distribute SHN copies of their recordings at high speed to users with broadband Internet connections. Third, mailing lists, e-mail, listservs, etc., allowed collectors and curators to locate each other and material of interest more easily.

Once these events happened, the etree community was formed by members of two highly-regarded online music-trading communities; Sugarmegs Audio and PCP (People for a Clearer Phish). Starting with 10 people, saw staggering growth rate. By February 2001, there were almost 300 independent FTP servers providing the trunk of to over 12,000 users. Tools for creating, packaging, verifying and fixing lossless filesets were developed, and included programs like mkwACT, Shorten, Shntool, and others.

BitTorrent was written with etree in mind and etree was the only bittorrent listing site linked from the official FAQ for quite some time. [ [ The Seattle Times: Business & Technology: BitTorrent file-sharing program floods the Web ] ] As BitTorrent gained in popularity, and as the availability of free, high-bandwidth FTP servers was restricted by universities and corporations, the number of etree FTP servers steadily declined, and by 2004, few remained in active service. Still, continued to grow exponentially. As of August 2008, there were more than 370,000 registered users of who have contributed more than 387,000 setlists for 28,000 artists, and helped to distribute more than 50,000 lossless recordings for approximately 100 artists through and the world's cultural heritage.

Community is organized by people who love music, in collaboration with archivists and historians. consists of four related parts: a wiki, a database, a distribution mechanism, and a community space. First, [] consists of a large [ database of performance data] for thousands of artists -- who played what, where, when, and with whom -- as well as [ lists of lossless filesets] of "trade-friendly" artists like the Grateful Dead, Phish and many, many others, who permit their fans to record and copy their concert performances. Where appropriate, these resources are linked to the Internet Archive's [ Live Music Archive] collection, often known as the LMA or "Llama". The advantage of a central database of lossless filesets is that collectors and historians can quickly determine what fileset they have received, and read community feedback about the accuracy, quality and other characteristics of the recording. Gone are the days of reviewing multiple cassette tapes looking for the best copy of the same recording.

The [ etree wiki] was put in place around 2001 because the main page was no longer regularly updated. Although initially met with abundant cynicism, this new technology proved its worth, and as of 2007 is a thriving, successful wiki.

[] was created by [ Tom Anderson] to keep track of shows he owned without the need of entering the setlist for each newly acquired show. He created in August 1999 and made the site multi-user in November. An etree domain was granted in January 2000. The origins of sources tracked at lie in [ lists] maintained by Greg and Diana Hamilton. (The addition of MD5 checksums as an organizing mechanism came later.) These were imported into db.etree in July 2000 and a new section was created on the site that lets anyone become a volunteer to track sources for any trade friendly band.

[] is a BitTorrent tracker that has replaced the old network of FTP servers. allows users to torrent filesets of trade-friendly artists for community members to download and enjoy. The copying of recordings by non-trade-friendly artists is not permitted. More than 30,000 lossless filesets have been torrented, and these recordings, each now in the possession of dozens or hundreds of people, will be preserved for future generations. Announcements of newly added torrents may be obtained by subscribing to the mailing list at [] .

Community involvement and support are provided by

People who directly support the community include IT and database administrators, mailing list administrators, and countless others who seed lossless filesets to, or who add performance data to is truly a community effort and without the support of all involved, it simply would not exist.


In 2000 and 2001, won a Jammy Award, in the "Best Fan Web Site" category. These are the first two year's the Jammy's were held. stopped giving this award after 2001.


External links

The community

* - Information about etree and how to obtain the music. The information on this site supersedes
* - A database of live concerts and recordings
* - A bittorrent tracker for legally tradable artists
* - Mailing list subscription and archive
* - Messageboards
* - A brief history of

Related web sites

* - Live Music Archive – the Llama, as it's affectionately known, approached through the siteops mailing list with a proposition to host lossless audio sets. Although essentially unchanged since production began, the Llama now hosts tens of thousands of concerts in lossless and lossy formats.
* - A public library of community projects. etree is the biggest project hosted for free by ibiblio.
* - Another lossless fileset community with historical and continuing links to

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